Melissa Murray Bailey has been talking about insanity for months. Such is the life of a Republican nominee for mayor in Philadelphia.

Bailey, 36, summed up for the city's Republican ward leaders in February how she saw life in Democratic-controlled Philadelphia with words often attributed to Albert Einstein: "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

It worked. The party looked past the fact that Bailey was a political novice and a Democrat until last January, choosing her as its standard-bearer over three equally unknown candidates.

She wasn't the first choice. The Republican City Committee tried to recruit former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and Philadelphia Housing Authority head Kelvin Jeremiah to run for mayor. Both said no.

Bailey has been repeating the insanity quotation ever since that fateful February meeting, decrying Democratic control as the source of the city's woes on school funding, job creation, crime, and race relations.

But there is a reason for that control: Democrats make up 78 percent of the city's registered voters. Republicans are 11 percent, as are independents and third-party voters.

Bernard Samuel was the last Republican elected mayor, winning a second four-year term in 1947. The GOP has not been competitive in a mayor's race since Sam Katz lost a rematch to then-Mayor John F. Street in 2003.

Bailey told the ward leaders in February that some might see her effort as naive, but that she would win them over by showing that "I don't accept this just-how-it-is mentality" in the city's politics.

She also talked a big game on messaging.

"I think we need to raise at least $3 million to get on TV," she said then. "That's going to be essential if we're really going to make a go at it."

Her campaign had raised $23,596 as of last week; she also lent it $4,000. Her chief rival, Democrat Jim Kenney, had $482,906 on hand.

State Rep. John Taylor, chairman of the city GOP, said local Republican dollars flowed this year to candidates for state Supreme Court - and for president. Some of that could have helped Bailey make an impact.

"She's sort of unflappable and knew what she was getting into," Taylor said. "Without dollars, she has really made a name for herself."

Bailey settled on using a lack of experience in what she calls the city's "political class" as a selling point, along with a decade of executive work in the global corporate world.

She makes that point when discussing Kenney, who served on City Council for 23 years.

"I'm never going to know as much about this city as Mr. Kenney does," Bailey said in a joint interview with him. "And I don't pretend that I will."

Instead, Bailey says, her lack of insider experience will make her more open to new ideas and give voters more say in how she would govern the city.

South Jersey to Society Hill

Bailey grew up in South Jersey, with grandparents who hailed from Philadelphia. A graduate of the University of Maryland, she worked as an executive in Australia and Singapore for a company that researches and shares best practices for Fortune 500 firms.

She and her husband, Sean, moved to Society Hill three years ago. She now heads the Americas branch of Universum, a consulting firm that helps companies brand themselves to recruit and keep employees.

Bailey often speaks of the shock she felt when she first took her daughter, Cricket, to kindergarten and learned that all public school students in the city receive free breakfast and lunch, even in well-off neighborhoods like hers, because of the city's high rate of poverty.

She said that sort of experience left her feeling as if the Democratic Party no longer represents her or the city's needs. And she tried to knock down rumors that her run for mayor is an exercise in increasing name recognition for a future run for office.

"People have asked me why I didn't run for City Council to start with," she said. "I don't have any legislative experience. . . . That's not where my strengths are."

Bailey said she wants to take an executive's eye to government, using yearly zero-based budgeting for all departments to see what return on investment they provide the city. "That's something right from day one - I know how to run things more efficiently."

She has proposed hiring reading specialists for early grades, pledging to have all third graders proficient within four years. She also wants to "surge" the Police Department by adding 500 officers, and to encourage Comcast Corp. to open customer call centers here to create jobs - a move that the cable giant agreed to on Thursday as part of its franchise renewal negotiations with the city.

She said her time overseas pitching corporate strategies to executives back in America taught her to never present a "fully baked idea." Instead, she would float options, seek input, and build consensus.

Such thinking would trump what she calls the "I-win-you-lose" dynamic holding sway in City Hall and Harrisburg.

"That's really what we're facing with the state budget right now," she said of the months-overdue spending plan. "Nobody wants to give in, because they'll be seen as weak or losing or not being able to get their agenda."

A cordial contest

The race has been a cordial affair - for the most part - between Bailey and Kenney. In the third of four debates, she knocked as costly and shortsighted his push to expand the Port of Philadelphia. She also noted that the family that runs Holt Logistics Corp. at the port is "significant contributors" to Kenney's campaign.

Kenney passed on a chance in that debate to offer a view on Bailey's tax proposals. "I'm not going to critique any other candidate," he said flatly.

Bailey returned last week to the Holts' support for Kenney, noting - hours after the final debate was taped - that Leo Holt had been on the board of the National Rifle Association, which Kenney has criticized sharply.

(Kenney, through a spokeswoman, said he and Holt agree on economic development at the port but not about the NRA. Holt, through a spokesman, said much the same.)

Bailey on Wednesday said she had heard "a lot of criticism for not pulling out all the stops in the debates" to go after Kenney.

She decided that was not the face she wanted to show voters, most of whom were seeing her for the first time. "You can't really take down people if you don't have a leg to stand on," she said.

Taylor said Bailey's next move, if she loses, is up to her. But he predicts a role in Republican politics moving forward.

"I think no matter what happens on Tuesday, Melissa Murray Bailey has a future in this city," he said.



Melissa Murray Bailey


Party: Republican.

Age: 36.

Residence: Society Hill.

Occupation: president, overseeing U.S., Canada, and Latin America for Universum, a business consulting firm.

Education: B.S. in biological engineering, University of Maryland.

Family: Husband, Sean; daughter, Cricket.

Career: Before Universum, executive for Corporate Executive Board in Australia and Singapore.EndText